The city of Austin will operate on its largest budget to date following near-unanimous approval from Austin City Council Sept. 10.
Austin City Council passed the $4.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2019-20 with a 10-1 vote, with District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan casting the lone objection. The approved budget boasts a $1.1 billion general fund—the portion funded mostly through property tax revenue—and provides a record $62.7 million allocation for homelessness initiatives. It covers the cost of 30 new police officers and sends an additional $14.4 million to the city’s housing trust fund, which supports affordable housing construction and acquisition.
The tax rate has been proposed at 44.31 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation, up from last year’s 44.03 cents. For the owner of a $353,265 valued home—the citywide median—this translates to a $1,565 annual city property tax bill—$130.42 per month—up from $1,463 last year.
For those who qualify for the city’s 10% homestead exemption, the annual tax bill slips to $1,409—$117.42 per month—an increase over last year’s annual bill of $1,317. The new tax bills represent monthly increases of $8.50 for non-homesteads and $7.67 per month for homestead properties.
Last year, city property taxes on the typical median homeowner with a 10% homestead exemption jumped $67. The $92 increase in this year’s budget reflects City Council’s move to increase property tax revenue to the legal maximum of 8%, as this budget is the last before new state-mandated 3.5% property tax revenue caps take hold.
With the impending 3.5% revenue caps, city staff has projected future budget deficits starting in fiscal year 2021-22 at $7.1 million and reaching $26.5 million by fiscal year 2023-24. Following his lone objection to this year’s budget, Flannigan said he was concerned that City Council was failing to look out for the city’s long-term fiscal health and said he was worried about staff’s deficit projections.
Flannigan unsuccessfully tried to transfer an additional $2.5 million into the city’s savings account; however, the city maintained its fiscal policy of keeping equal to 12% of its general fund in its savings account—roughly $132 million.
City Council adopted the budget and voted to ratify the 44.31 cents per $100 valuation tax rate, but it cannot officially adopt the tax rate until Sept. 25. Austin’s deputy chief financial officer, Ed Van Eenoo said the volume of protests waged against the Travis County Appraisal District this year held it from validating the tax rolls in time, rendering the city unable to set an exact tax rate and hold public hearings before budget passage. The city will hold the public hearings on Sept. 13 and 19, although, with the budget already passed based on the 44.31-cent tax rate, Van Eenoo said they would be “kind of pointless” but required by law.
Other highlights of the budget include additional money toward mental health response during emergency calls and retrofitting a property in the Del Valle area to act as a fully-staffed temporary fire station until the permanent station’s construction is completed in June. Taxpayers will also put up an additional $1 million to fund the testing of sexual assault kits, $2.5 million for a wildfire prevention program and $10.8 million for sidewalk improvements throughout the city.